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"For Purpose" or "Not For Purpose"? That is the Question.

“Brooks, we’re going to make so much money together, buddy!”

This is what the CEO of our newly created entity exclaimed to me on a warm spring night while sipping an expensive craft beer atop a rooftop bar overlooking the Charlotte, NC, skyline.

For some reason, that statement really struck a nerve with me.

Maybe it was because I liked to focus the last few hours of my day on personal and professional development, and was reminded about the time that I was sacrificing to be here.

Perhaps it was because he was drinking a $12 bottle of beer while a majority of the world was starving to death. (Sorry, the inner hippie in me just came out).

Ultimately, I realized that the purpose we had set forth was not consistent with the type of value that I wanted to create with, and for, others.   

Without skipping a beat, I quickly responded, “Yes, I hear you, and that’s awesome. To be candid, I care more about creating something remarkable together and genuinely serving the community. The money will be a byproduct of our service. Whose lives are we going to make better as a result of our existence?”

He looked puzzled and the conversation quickly tapered off. Most of our group had worked together in a previous life and they clamored about the “good ol’ days.” They excitedly made plans about how big we were going to grow and what they would do with their newfound wealth. I stood there knowing that as badly as I wanted to fit in; this square peg was not going into a round hole. Our values just weren’t congruent.

The Elusive Red Goldfish

It’s easy to get “cause marketing,” and the overall new wave of philanthropic infused business models confused. The newest book to emerge from the Purple Goldfish platform is entitled, Red Goldfish, written by my colleagues, Stan Phelps and Graeme Newell, and it argues that all businesses must choose to be “for purpose” or “not for purpose” in 2016 and moving forward.

The most common problem that I see is entities treating “purpose” as though it’s a campaign or integrating this aspect because they’re “supposed to” or because “everyone else is doing it.” The end result is an effort that typically comes across as contrived, and ultimately, chock-full of lackluster results.

Let me be clear, profit should be a primary goal in business. Without properly stewarding over your finances and investment, you’ll never have the ability to create more opportunity for others. My argument is that entities must begin, or reinvent themselves, with the end result in mind.

In essence, businesses must ask, “Whose lives are we looking to positively change, and how are we going to make the world a better place?”

Enter “For Purpose” Entities

As I just mentioned, companies seem to align with a different cause and are all out to make a positive difference in the world virtually everywhere you look now. While all of this action is wonderful to see, I came up with five keys based on my failures, overall experience, and copious amounts of research to create and sustain meaningful “for purpose” entities.

1. Start with an idea.

John Rivers of 4 Rivers Smokehouse didn’t set out to create Florida’s largest barbecue chain. John cooked his now world famous brisket to serve his community, raise money for those in need locally, and to gently evangelize.

At the root of it all, John lives out his vocational purpose. He acted on an idea which begets excitement which begets passion which begets purpose. When you have a joyful heart toward your cause you’ll always take massive action, and this all comes as a result of being led by the right idea.

2. Be inclusive.

Too often entities want to make their impact all about them. You’ve seen it time and time again when entities make proclamations in their communications to say, “See, look at what we did for all of these people and how awesome we are.” They’ve made it all about them and how great they are.

They talk about what their vision is and how they are going to accomplish their goals. But what about the people that they serve? What about their employees and the people that want to help? Everyone wants something to believe in. Are you giving them the opportunity to be a part of your movement and inviting them to do so?  

3. Intentionally permeate your purpose-driven culture. 

One of the largest disconnects with purpose are the personal connections to the stories about the end results. So what can you do about it?

I highly recommend creating internal and external communications that celebrate how your employees, customers, and community align with your purpose. Take the time to celebrate the instances where your purpose has manifested as often as possible. Hang up pictures or post them on your website to tell the stories of the people that you have helped by living out your purpose. The possibilities here are endless.

4. Lose yourself in service. 

Too many entities focus on the outcomes in the form of a P&L and financial statements when they need to be focusing on a few strategic inputs. My suggestion is to garner that focus on a few customer impact measures, i.e. what are the few activities that we can take scalable action on that drive our customer’s overall experience and the top-line?

The biggest disconnect that I see is the inability to correlate the right measures of service to profitability. Therein lies the key to truly losing yourself in service to others and the commitment to become a servant leader.

5. Say what you mean and execute.

Have you ever seen a speaker that looked the part, put on an excellent presentation, and said all of the right things but you just couldn’t bring yourself to trust them? Something about them just made you think that they are going to jump off stage and engage with the superficial (and typically illicit) pleasures that money buys.

Amy Cuddy of the Harvard Business School has argued that our primitive brain immediately evaluates every person that we meet by asking two questions: “What are this person’s intentions toward me?” and “How strong and competent is this person?”

Competence is the key word in those questions. Your employees, customers, and community are all counting on you to follow through with what you say you’re going to do. The second you start making successions; you’ll have broken trust and will create a slippery slope of incompetence.

The unfortunate part that is never addressed is that no one wants to deal with confrontation head on and call out your incongruence.

Instead, your employees will talk after hours over drinks and let their discontent fester. Your customers will leave without saying a word because they don’t care about you. And the community will talk behind closed doors about how they don’t support you. Before you know it, you’re out of business and feeling empty inside.

If you make bold promises, stick to them no matter what. Your word is your bond.

Et Tu, Brute?

Will you be one of the “for purpose” or “not for purpose” entities moving forward? Either choice is completely acceptable and I hope that you don’t choose the “for purpose” angle just because everyone else is doing it or that you want to look good in the eyes of others.

Personally, I look forward to the day when I’m able to turn to a group of young men and women to cast vision and make a statement very similar to this one:

We’re going to develop 100 million transformational leaders together. As a result, we’ll be able to take care of our families and create amazing experiences with people that we love and care about.

…Oh yeah, and we’ll make some money too as a result.